So, new year, new rides and all that. After the Paris ride I’ve been missing cycling in a group. The obvious thing to do was to seek out group rides based in London, so that’s what I did.
London Bike & Beer Group are a group on Facebook that I’ve been part of for a while but never made it on any of their rides. On Facebook they seem like a friendly bunch, with no affiliations to any particular organisation or campaign, just a bunch of people who like cycling. And their pics on Instagram always look like they’re having fun. So I thought I’d give it a try.
The event on 10 January is billed as a ‘mystery ride’. We meet at Euston on a cold but dry Sunday morning and there’s a fair bit of faffing before we get going. While we wait I talk to some of the other riders – there are quite a few of us and for some (me included) it’s our first group ride with LBB. One guy has a beer while we wait. So far, so good. I like these guys!
We set off as a bit of a rag-bag bunch – there’s maybe 30 of us – and with no introduction or instructions as to where we’re going, who’s leading, whether we’re trying to stay together as a group, etc. We head off in a north east direction, skirting around the edges of Regent’s Park, where we have a comedy run-in with a police van. A cop leans out and yells “stop blocking the road” or something. We all just ignore him and carry on cycling. Twat. We do, however, stop to admire the giraffes in London Zoo.
From here it’s on towards St John’s Wood, but for some reason we stop outside South Hampstead station on the Overground for a photo. Then we do the same at Kilburn and my old stomping ground, Kensal Green. This means the ride is very stop-start, and we’re cycling through the pretty dull suburbs of North West London.
When we do the same at Willesden Junction, here hanging around in the cold for a good 5 or 10 minutes, it gradually becomes clear that the ‘mystery’ ride involves the stations on the Overground line out of Euston. And so it transpires that the mystery is that we’ll stop and take a photo at every single station between Euston and Watford Junction. Don’t ask me why…
There’s not much of interest on route, and the things that are interesting – Wembley Stadium (which would have been fun to cycle around), and the incredible Hindu temple in Neasden (that I’ve never been to) – we don’t pass. There’s no real green spaces or parks, just lots of suburban streets and parked cars.
It’s kind of fun, but not exactly what I was expecting. We stop for lunch in picturesque Wembley(!) and I’m getting colder as the day goes on, mainly because we never pick up enough speed to warm up. There are no designated blockers or people hanging back to mark turning, so the group becomes fragmented and people tail off or give up altogether. I also witness a couple of close shaves with cars, mainly on roundabouts when it’s not clear to us or the car drivers if we’re riding in a group or not.
I attempt to start conversations with a few people as we ride but most seem happy not talking or prefer to just listen to their music – Kiss FM in particular (including all the adverts!) through a speaker, which seems kind of an odd choice.
It’s a much reduced group of about 15 that eventually makes it to the final destination, a pub next to Watford Junction station. Food and drink is ordered, and I get chatting to a nice guy who’s an archaeologist in London (what a cool job!) But as quickly as the food is finished it’s time to decide – train or cycle back. I decide to get the train then, at the last minute, decide to cycle. Fuck it, I’ve come this far, I might as well finish the job.
The return ride is hard work but perhaps more fun. It’s dark and cold, but we take a more direct, straightforward route with far fewer stops, so I soon warm up. Cycling by the side of the dual carriageway in the darkness, heading towards the Edgeware Road, is actually pretty exciting, even though I’m tiring by this point.
Gradually, people peel off to get to their homes, until eventually I’m on my own, cycling around Hyde Park Corner, through Victoria and towards Peckham. I stop for supplies at the Co-op and, as I get going again, I catch up with one of the other riders; I can’t remember his name but he has a distinctive, slightly scary bandana covering the lower half of his face. Nice guy though, who works in Camberwell Art School as a janitor or something. We cycle on together for a bit before I turn off for Nunhead.
By the time I finally get home it’s gone 7pm and I’ve got about 86km on the clock. Although I forgot to record the averages etc, they’ll be fairly meaningless on a ride like this. Overall then, I was a bit underwhelmed by my first proper out-of-town London group ride, but glad I gave it a go. No doubt I’ll be back for more…